Friday evening, hours before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to visit one of the biggest Sikh temples in Canada, his government agreed to change the language in a report on terror to no longer explicitly mention Sikh extremism.
The 2018 Public Report on the Terrorism Threat to Canada released in December drew ire from Canada’s Sikh community for talking about Sikh extremism for the first time as one of the top five extremist threats in Canada.
Although the objections were largely about the inclusion of Sikhs at all, because of the report’s lack of evidence to back it up, Goodale said he would at least ask for a review of the language the report used, because entire religions should never be equated with terrorism.
On April 7, Goodale issued a statement saying the 2018 report would be left as it was but future reports would have to speak to the ideologies or intentions of extremists, not their religions.
Instead of “Sikh extremism” future reports would, if it was appropriate, discuss threats posed by “extremists who support violent means to establish an independent state within India.”
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That changed late Friday, just hours before Trudeau was to join Vancouver MP and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to visit the Khalsa Diwan Society’s Ross Street Gurdwara in Vancouver and march in the city’s Vaisakhi parade.
“The report has been updated to reflect this terminology, and it will be used in future public documents,” a statement from the department reads.
Balpreet Singh, the lawyer for the World Sikh Organization in Canada, said the original report was “deeply hurtful and insensitive” and welcomed the government’s decision to change it as an “acknowledgment there was a mistake that was made.”
But he said the change took too long and required too much effort from the community.
Singh noted, however, the report still refers to extremism in both Sunni and Shia Islam, which he says undermines the government’s commitment to be more careful about not maligning entire religions.
Singh is also still concerned that the government is listing extremist elements advocating violence for Khalistan without any evidence.
“Prove it or remove it,” said Singh.
He said whether this helps the Liberals mend fences with Sikh voters is not for him to say.
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With 16 Sikhs elected as Liberal MPs in 2015, and four in Trudeau’s cabinet, the connection between the party and the then-new government was strong. It cracked last year after Trudeau’s troubled trip to India, where he signed an agreement to co-operate with the Indian government to fight terror threats, including from Sikh extremist groups Babbar Khalsa and the International Sikh Youth Association.
Singh said some believe Trudeau only signed the agreement with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu, to try to salvage the trip. It had gone off the rails when word got out that Canada had invited, to two receptions, a Canadian man named Jaspal Atwal, who was convicted in 1986 of attempting to murder an Indian politician who was visiting Vancouver Island.
The fractures deepened in the fall when the report came out, with some still believing it showed influence from the Indian government, which has been critical of any push for an independent Khalistan, peaceful or not.
British Columbia Liberal MP Randeep Sarai, who was among those who spoke out against the report last fall, said Friday he was glad the government had admitted a mistake and corrected it. Sarai drew headlines during the trip for being the MP whose office invited Atwal to the India receptions, invitations the government said were issued without knowledge of Atwal’s criminal past.
Sarai said Friday he believes Trudeau will be warmly welcomed in Vancouver by the Sikh community Saturday.
The House of Commons public-safety committee unanimously agreed this week to a motion from NDP MP Matthew Dube to ask Goodale to come to the committee to discuss the report.